Manchester United are “closely tracking” Girona fullback Miguel Gutierrez as Erik ten Hag considers options to strengthen his defence, according to a report by The Sun.
Steve Brenner (SunSport) believes United are looking to use the January market to “strengthen at full-back” after seeing loanee Sergio Reguilon return to Tottenham Hotspur. “Left-back is now a top priority,” Brenner contends.
Scouts from Old Trafford have been dispatched to Spain on “multiple occasions” in recent weeks to assess Miguel Gutierrez – the Girona left-back who has taken La Liga by storm.
Girona are currently second in the league, level on points with Real Madrid in first. Perhaps even more surprisingly, they sit ten points clear of both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, in third and fourth respectively.
They have scored the most goals in La Liga, employing an unrelenting attacking style which overwhelms the opposition (as well as their own defence on occasion). Last night’s thrilling 4-3 win over Atletico Madrid, courtesy of a 91st minute winner, exemplifies the team’s approach.
Gutierrez is a pivotal part of this.
The left-back has played the most minutes for his team this year, scoring one goal and providing three assists in the process. Sources in Spain describe his form as being good enough to be considered the “best in the division.”
Girona manager, Míchel, utilises a flexible 3-1-6 build-up structure, designed to promote overloads based on numerical superiority. Girona achieve this through constant positional shifts, with particular players instructed to play in different areas, based on the opposition’s response to their movement. Gutierrez is one such example.
Though nominally a left-back, the 22-year-old is as likely to pop up in a central position as he is on the left. While Gutierrez is encouraged to overlap in a traditional sense, he will also make penetrating underlap runs on the inside of the Girona left-winger.
Similarly, Gutierrez often inverts from left-back to form a pivot in midfield, which sees Girona shift from a 3-1-6 structure into more of a 3-2-5 – most commonly associated with Manchester City and Pep Guardiola. Again, this is not a set system, but rather a reactive one based on the Girona players’ (superbly coached) instincts.
This tactical flexibility – personified by Gutierrez himself – has seen Míchel’s team take La Liga by storm with only a Jude Bellingham-inspired Real Madrid capable of competing with them thus far, despite Girona’s far more modest budget.
Brenner confirms United’s scouts have been impressed by Gutierrez’s “high football IQ” which is central to his ability to operate in multiple roles, with very different demands.
Ten Hag has been seeking to implement his own version of the 3-1-6 system this season, with wildly different results to the ones enjoyed by Girona. United have struggled at both ends of the pitch and do not appear to have grasped exactly what the Dutch manager is attempting to achieve; at this stage, it’s not necessarily obvious he grasps it either.
However, an intelligent full-back, who is already thriving in a similar system, could prove an astute signing if Ten Hag is to continue the evolution of his side.
Brenner contends Gutierrez may be available for £22 million – a reasonable fee by the standards United are used to forking out. It may seem an unnecessary purchase given the presence of Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia already at Old Trafford, but the former has consistently struggled with injuries while the latter is yet to vindicate his purchase last summer.
Furthermore, Ten Hag does not appear content with any of his centre-back options for the LCB role, aside from Lisandro Martinez. The Dutchman has, at times, deployed Shaw there, to great success. If Malacia was to be sold – with Gutierrez purchased in his place – the Girona left-back would, inadvertently, help provide greater depth at centre-back as well, by enabling Shaw to slot inside.
A deal would be undoubtedly complicated, however. Real Madrid retain 50% of Gutierrez’s rights and possess a sell-on-clause given the left-back came through their academy, only joining Girona last summer.
Given Gutierrez’s form this season, and his suitability to the system Ten Hag is so desperate to see work at Old Trafford, it may be a complication worth overcoming, regardless of the price.